Ball State University and Kent State University were neck and neck. Each round a different team prevailed in Worthen Arena at Ball State’s second home meet of the season. Kent State started strong, earning 48.850 points in bars, while the Cardinals achieved 48.725 points in vault, an event that is usually one of their strongest.
It was a rocky start for Ball State, but once they received a total of 49.275 points for bars, they were able to gain a slim lead. Ball State was only ahead by .050 after the third event. It was anyone’s meet, but the Cardinals’ 49.325 points on floor sealed the deal for Ball State’s win, and the meet ended 196.075-195.525.
As of today, Ball State has beaten Kent State the past four times they’ve competed. The last time the Cardinals lost to the Flashes was in 2022, and it was 194.800-194.875.
Gymnastics head coach Joanna Saleem called Sunday’s meet a dogfight.
“We knew it was going to be a tight meet,” Saleem said. “From a fan’s perspective, I’m sure it was a great meet because it was really close the entire time, and that’s what’s fun about athletics.”
The back-and-forth between cheers from the Cardinals and the Flashes only added to the competitiveness of the meet.
One would’ve expected a celebrity to have walked through the door with how loud the little girl screamed when gymnasts like senior Hannah Ruthberg threw shirts into the crowd.
“It was so awesome to see these stands so full,” Ruthberg said. “I’ve never seen that many people packing these stands before.”
Ruthberg earned the highest all-around score of the meet, but the North Carolina native wasn’t focused on scores; she was concentrated on being there for her team. Her support of her teammates by cheering, staying energized and having a good attitude is something she prides herself on.
Judges were hard scoring, with a 9.925 being the highest score given out. The Cardinals prevailed in three out of four events, with Kent State only leading in beam. Ruthberg took bars with 9.925 points, senior Suki Pfister had a 9.850 in vault and sophomore Zoe Middleton won floor with a 9.925. Kent State’s Sarah Haxton topped the beam with 9.900 points.
The Cardinals are usually good at starting off strong, but there were some mistakes made in the beginning that made the meet tight. A few gymnasts had unsteady landings or falls that led to an uncertain beginning for Ball State. Saleem was happy to see that despite these errors, the gymnasts stayed patient and confident.
“I don't think they were made because somebody else made a mistake or because they made a mistake early on,” she said. “It didn’t avalanche, and that’s a huge moment for us.”
Confidence and consistency were prevalent during practice for two underclassmen: sophomore Leah White and freshman Delaney McMahon. Because of this, they were able to participate in their first competitive meet of the season.
McMahon competed in beam and earned 9.775 points. She started off with a low spin and performed multiple back handsprings and switch leaps. McMahon kept a smile on her face and brought school spirit with a chirp chirp signal just before ending her routine with a gainer full dismount.
The fashion design major said getting to compete has been a journey, but she thought she did well and was happy to redeem herself after the Red v. White Meet where she obtained 8.740 points on the beam.
McMahon plans to keep training and having fun this season. Her goal is to compete on beam more often.
“I am just happy to be on a team that is appreciative of what I have to bring even if I don’t compete,” she said.
Saleem loved seeing McMahon hit her routine, and she is excited to see her development. The head coach also recognized Ruthberg’s “fabulous meet.”
Ruthberg’s tactic is to make each meet feel like a practice. She knows that although there is pressure to be in the lineup, it’s a privilege, so she turns her nerves into excitement. With it potentially being her final year, she wants to continue to be better as a gymnast and a leader on the team.
“Today we really showed that we were unshakable, and we can handle pretty much any adversity that comes our way,” Ruthberg said. “With the falls early in lineups, we really just hunkered down and we dug deep, and we showed that we can do these routines, rain or shine.”
Landings have been one of Ball State’s strengths in the past competitions this season, but it was a factor that almost led to their demise Sunday. During the two weeks the Cardinals didn’t compete, the gymnasts took the time to improve big takeoffs and being in the air. During the next practices, Saleem plans to go back and refine more of those landings again.
“It's a long season, and we've got to make sure the focus is to cycle and peak the way we want,” she said. “And it worked out for us today. We just need to get back in and not let off the gas.”
The Cardinals’ next will be at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9 against Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.